The recent lawsuit with Merck, makers of NuvaRing, has raised the awareness that hormonal birth control can cause heart attacks and strokes. Recent studies have concluded that 55,000 more women than men a year will have a stroke. Part of the reason that women are more susceptible to stroke has to do with hormonal birth control. NuvaRing, like YAZ, received a lot of bad press because compared to other hormone birth control these two were almost three times as likely to cause stroke. Dr. Petra Casey from the Mayo Clinic cautions women however when they hear these numbers to consider the actual statistics. By that she means that with taking YAZ or NuvaRing 15 out of 100,000 women are likely to experience health problems, this is in comparison to 5 out of 100,000 women who are at risk through other forms of hormonal birth control.
Birth control is just one risk factor associated with stroke in women. Hormone replacement therapies used by women going through menopause could also raise the risks of stroke. So can experiencing preeclampsia during pregnancy. With an estimated 6-10 percent of women having this particular pregnancy problem, the American Stroke Association, (ASA) and American Heart Association, (AHA) are releasing new guidelines for stroke awareness.
While the lawsuit with Merck was unfortunate it did bring about a new kind of awareness for users of birth control; anyone who used NuvaRing has now been warned of the stroke risks, something that may not have been covered prior to the lawsuit. The AHA wants doctors to discuss stroke risks with their patients, covering everything from genetic predispositions to prior health risks that increase the likelihood of experiencing a stroke.
Obesity, diabetes including gestational diabetes, atrial fibrillation or abnormal heart rhythm can all increase a woman’s likelihood of having a stroke. Although men and women share similar risk factors for stroke doctors are beginning to see that there are specific risk factors that apply to women. Chairmen of Neurology, for the University of Pittsburg, Dr. Lawrence Weschler stated in a recent interview that he feels encouraged by these new guidelines as it will make it easier for doctors to discuss the risk factors with their female patients.
One of the lead authors of the new guidelines, Dr. Cheryl Bushnell, says their importance has to do with 60 percent of stroke victims being women. She spoke in length about how hormonal birth control increased a woman’s chance of stroke. However, she cautioned that the risks increase in women who already at a heightened risk factor for stroke. Healthy women with no history of high blood pressure should be made aware that birth control raises blood pressure but they do not necessarily have to worry that it will cause stroke, unless they combine it with other unhealthy activities like smoking.
If a woman experiences preeclampsia though, even ten or fifteen years earlier they are at a higher risk for stroke than a woman who did not have preeclampsia. Another risk factor that is common in both men and women is hyper tension. However, it seems that high blood pressure is left uncontrolled more often in women than men. This latest study, along with the new guidelines, will hopefully do more to raise stroke awareness especially for women using birth control products like NuvaRing.